A country retreat to explore on horseback
By ELEANOR MCGILLIE 30 January, 2017
Splendid, idyllic and one of the finest equestrian playgrounds in Ireland is how we would describe Castle Leslie Estate in Glaslough Co Monaghan. As a birthday treat, my friend and I decided to celebrate with a lunch date and a proper catch up – Castle Leslie on horseback. I, with the help of Wilson the horse, and Sheila on Percy, took an afternoon to explore the estate’s ancient woodland in 1,000 acres of Irish countryside.
Glaslough is a village very much like our own village of Caledon. Just three kilometres apart, they are both quaint, idyllic, good neighbours, and, in spite of being small in size, the potential to explore is huge.
I hadn’t been horse riding in years. The last time was actually in Dartmoor about eight years ago – a beautiful national park near to where I lived when I working as a journalist in the south west of England. But the desire to get back in the saddle has always remained, so, when my dear friend Sheila proposed we celebrate me tipping over the wrong side of 40 with a lunch and some outdoor activity, Castle Leslie on horseback was my first thought.
Set in 1,000 acres, this castle hotel is a favourite for many. I dine at the Hunting Lodge regularly and have also had the pleasure of dining in Snaffles. Growing up too my sisters and I would have used the equestrian centre but of course in those days the stables were where the Hunting Lodge now exists.
So it was back to old ground for lunch and a hack.
When we arrived, we took a pre lunch stroll down the lane to the castle to admire it in all of its glory. Of course the last time we were at Castle Leslie we got a chance to say good afternoon to Sir Jack Leslie who’s passing in April last year has left a void in many hearts. I often had the pleasure of saying hello to him as he sat reading the papers either in the Hunting Lodge or in the castle itself. It’s a wonderful home full of history.
It was a damp old day, and icy cold, but there’s something exciting about being outdoors and being at one with our natural surroundings. What I love about our countryside is, that no matter what the season, or regardless of the weather, it’s a delight to enjoy the beauty which surrounds us.
Having admired the castle, told the story that St Patrick was believed to have visited the graveyard site in the fifth century and admired the 12th century High Cross, it was time for lunch.
The old part of the Hunting Lodge is my favourite. I remember years ago sitting up by the roaring fire with a hot port. So, taking our seats, we ordered cream of carrot and parsnip soup followed by venison burgers and rustic chips and a glass of house red. The food was delicious and the service was impeccable. It was the perfect beginning to a perfect afternoon.
We made our way to the equestrian centre where we were greeted by Tina, Elizabeth and Catherine. We got suited and booted and met our horses. Sheila was on a beautiful cob, Percy – a horse well known in the local area. While I was introduced to big Wilson. A funny big fella who apparently will play any trick in the book to get grazing along the way. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have had my battles with many a big brute who loves a bit of grazing when he’s supposed to be firing forwards. But at 16.2, Wilson and I established a good understanding and Elizabeth had me well warned to be the boss of him.
So off we headed towards the stunning woodlands surrounding the castle which, as it stands today, was built in 1878, on a lakeside setting. There’s nowhere more beautiful, nowhere more steeped in family heritage than this successful 14 bedroom hotel, restaurant and equestrian, country retreat which exists today.
Being on horseback is a wonderful way to explore this vast estate where there are deer, hares, ducks, lapwings, squirrels – all forms of wildlife! The rawness of the day could be heard as the hooves squelched through the muddy tracks, our breath clear to be seen and the echoes of great banter and laughter along the one hour route we took.
Of course, there’s so much to do at Castle Leslie. There are so many experiences on offer. But for the limited time Sheila and I had for my afternoon birthday celebration, you can’t beat Castle Leslie on horseback.
It’s fantastic having such playgrounds on our own doorsteps but the saying ‘we don’t know what’s on our own doorsteps’ is unfortunately too familiar. I, on the otherhand, love to celebrate what’s on our own doorsteps. That’s what Live It Experience It is all about. Tourism is booming for visitors coming into the north and south of Ireland. It’s our job to show them what’s on offer. But for people living here too, it’s important that we acknowledge and relish in the fact we are spoilt for choice. Castle Leslie is a special place to visit. If you have never been before, you should go. If you haven’t been in a while, make a visit back and enjoy the splendour that surrounds you.
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